III.  Ideology and Spectatorship

“We’re victims.  Can’t you see it?  Is it wrong for us to fight . . . ?”  (Nadeki Fujimi, “Pink Panther” aka “Pink Killer”)

Reading Strategies

Traditional conceptualizations of the action genre – particularly of muscle dramas – construe them as appealing mainly to male spectators and as affirming patriarchal ideology via identification of the spectator of either sex with conspicuously gender-stereotyped conventions of “look” (Note 1), narrative structure (Note 2) and character (Note 3).  Debates have continued in Western feminist film studies concerning whether recent female action films as a sub-genre are “progressive” (privileging female power) or “recuperative” (ultimately re-affirming patriarchal assumptions).  Other approaches have focused less on “essentialist” (Note 4) readings of film role or narrative, with greater emphasis on active audience participation in the construction of diverse meanings.  This cultural studies (Note 5) perspective on negotiated readings of film texts provides a framework for analyzing the experience of viewing the genre films of one culture by audiences of another, without being weighted too heavily in favor of cultural or theoretical specificity.  Examination of the combinations of cultural/intercultural entertainment product, genre, gender and audience, within a context of Western spectatorship, raises a number of provocative questions about symbolism, power, and visual pleasure associated with a cinema in which, to paraphrase a fan writer, at one time “fighting divas seemed to grow on trees.”   What readings are negotiated?  Which meanings are possible?

Anya (Sharp Guns), Angie Cheung (Body Weapon)
Rejection of simplistic ideological approaches to readings of popular culture texts involves recognition of what Mimi White has been termed “representational heterogeneity” (Note 6).  This concept acknowledges the likelihood of alternative reading strategies from differing spectator positions, and corresponding possibilities that texts might deliberately address these in an attempt to broaden their popular culture appeal.  For example, feminist approaches to ideologically dominant material can yield alternative reading strategies that emphasize a marginal perspective (or character within a text) and bracket off the dominant context (Note 7).  A negotiated reading is one that inflects the dominant ideology toward the social experience of a particular viewing group (Note 8).  All readings, to some extent, may be regarded as negotiated by the social experience of the viewing group, perhaps shifting the focus of analysis away from pure consideration of the text toward a more interactive model.  In attempting an ideological analysis of action films in which gender is foregrounded and female performers are both bearers of the cinematic gaze and drive the narrative, it is appropriate to consider gender deliberative readings alongside culturally specific ones.

Notes:  Ideology and Spectatorship

1. Laura Mulvey, “Visual pleasure and narrative cinema.”  In, Thornham, op. cit., pp. 58 – 69.
2. Fiske, op. cit., pp. 293 – 296.
3. Fiske, ibid.
4. e. ann Kaplan, op. cit.
5. Fiske, ibid.
6. White, op. cit., pp. 191 – 192.
7. White, ibid.
8. Fiske, ibid.